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Witches of Warboys

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Title: Witches of Warboys  
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Witches of Warboys

The Witches of Warboys is the name used to describe the accusation, trial and execution for witchcraft of Alice Samuel and her family between 1589 and 1593 in the village of Warboys, in the fens of England.[1]

The trial

The first allegations were made in November 1589 by Jane Throckmorton, the 10-year-old daughter of Robert Throckmorton the Squire of Warboys when she started suffering from fits. She accused the 76 year old Alice Samuel of being the cause; this was echoed by Jane’s four sisters and some household servants who began exhibiting similar symptoms.

Robert Throckmorton was a close friend of Sir Henry Cromwell, one of the wealthiest commoners in England. In March 1590, Lady Cromwell, the grandmother of Oliver Cromwell, came to Warboys to visit. She also accused Mrs Samuel of being a witch. She took Alice Samuel aside and berated her for causing such affliction. An argument ensued in which Lady Cromwell grabbed a pair of scissors and cut a lock of hair off Alice. She gave it to Mrs. Throckmorton to burn. This was a folk remedy to weaken a witch's power. Mrs. Samuel, feeling insulted, asked, "Madam, why do you use me thus? I never did you any harm as yet." That night Lady Cromwell had nightmares, became ill and later died in 1592.

In December of 1592 Alice Samuel begged the girls to stop their accusations, which they did. Nevertheless, the local parson persuaded Alice to confess to witchcraft, but she recanted the next day. Taken before the Bishop of Lincoln she confessed again and was taken to Huntingdon where she was imprisoned with her daughter Agnes and her husband John. All three were tried on April 5, 1593 for the murder, by witchcraft, of Lady Cromwell. They were found guilty and hanged. Her words to Lady Cromwell ("I never did you any harm as yet") were used against Alice Samuel at the trial.

Sir Henry Cromwell confiscated the Samuels' small amount of property and used it to pay for an annual sermon against witchcraft to be preached in Huntingdon in perpetuity. This continued until 1812, by which time it was being given against belief in witchcraft.

The scholar George Kittredge called the Warboys trial

“…the most momentous witch-trial that had ever occurred in England,” partially because it had “… demonstrably produced a deep and lasting impression on the class that made laws.” He makes a case that the Warboys trial influenced the passage of the Witchcraft Act of 1604.


External Links

  • The Witches of Warboys in Possession & The Courts 1593-1692: Salem in Context by William W. Coventry . Accessed June 2007
  • Witches of Warboys account. Accessed June 2007

Additional Reading

  • Tatem, Moira Witches of Warboys pub by Wholesaler Uniques from Gardners (1993) ISBN 1-870724-33-X
  • Lea, Henry Charles & Howland, Arthur C. Materials Toward a History of Witchcraft
  • Wright, Thomas The Witches of Warboys pub by Kessinger Publishing (December 2005) ISBN 1-4253-7244-9
  • Westwood, Jennifer & Simpson, Jacqueline A Guide to England's Legends, from Spring-heeled Jack to the Witches of Warboys - ISBN 978-0-14-102103-4
  • The Witches of Warboys: A Bibliographical Note Author: Almond, Philip C. Notes and Queries, Volume 52, Number 2, June 2005, pp. 192–193(2) Publisher: Oxford University Press
  • Robbins, Russell Hope. The Encyclopedia of Witchcraft and Demonology. New York: Bonanza Books, 1959
  • Almond, Philip C., 'The Witches of Warboys: An Extraordinary Story of Sorcery, Sadism and Satanic Possession (London: I.B. Tauris, 2008).
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